Figure 1: Distribution of injuries across regions according to low income country (LIC), middle income country (MIC) and high income country (HIC). Source: WHO Global Status Report on Road Safety, 2009.
Injuries to the head and neck are the main cause of death, severe injury and disability among users of motorcycles and bicycles. In European countries, an investigation into the effectiveness of motorcycle helmets found that head injuries contribute to around 75% of deaths among motorized two-wheeler users (European Commission COST 327 Final Report, 2001); in some low-income and middle-income countries head injuries are estimated to account for up to 88% of such fatalities (Umar, 2002). The social costs of head injuries for survivors, their families and communities are high, in part because they frequently require specialized or long term care. Blincoe et al. (2002) have reported that head injuries also result in much higher medical costs than any other type of injury, such that these injuries exert a high toll on a country’s health care costs and its economy.
Globally, there is an upward trend in the number and use of motorcycles and bicycles, both for transport and recreational purposes. Indeed, most of the growth in the number of vehicles on the world’s roads comes from an increasing use of motorized two-wheelers. Asian countries, in particular, are expected to experience a considerable rise in the number of motorized two-wheeler vehicles on their roads. This rapid growth in the use of motorcycles in many low income and middle-income countries is already being accompanied by a considerable increase in the number of head injuries and fatalities that will only continue to increase if present trends continue unchecked.
Helmets have been proven as an effective safety device for the reduction of the severity of head injury. Mandatory helmet laws have naturally increased helmet wearing rates; however, in many countries that do not have mandatory helmet laws, helmet use rates continue to remain low. The lack of public awareness of the benefits certainly contributes to this lack of helmet wearing; however, recent research has shown that helmet affordability also plays a role in limiting helmet wearing. In lower and middle income countries, the hourly wages tend to be lower than high income countries and consequently the buying power of individuals in those countries is significantly reduced. Hendrie et al. (2004) investigated the affordability of a variety of different safety devices in 18 countries. His research compared the cost of these safety devices to the hourly wage earned by factory workers in the respective country. The results of this analysis are presented in Table 1. The results clearly show that for low income countries, some safety devices are simply unaffordable for the vast majority of the population. Typical motorcycle helmet costs are at least two times the cost of a bicycle helmet, suggesting that in lower income countries with an hourly wage of $3 USD or less, nearly 20 hours of factory work would be necessary to purchase a motorcycle helmet. Given other more basic needs such as food, clothing and housing, it is not surprising that helmet affordability also contributes to the lack of helmet wearing in low and middle income countries. The availability of an affordable and effective motorcycle helmet in low and middle income countries would most definitely improve the current road safety situation in these countries.
Table 1: Factory hours of work needed to pay for safety devices (source: Hendrie et al., 2004)
The establishment of a national motorcycle helmet standard is the first step towards improving helmet compliance and helmet usage rates in developing countries. Implementation of a standard that promotes the manufacture and sale of protective helmets that are accepted by the consumer will significantly reduce the frequency and severity of motorcycle related head injuries. This will consequently result in a significant reduction of the societal costs due to road traffic injuries in these developing countries.
In addition to the benefits gained from assisting developing countries with establishment of their own national motorcycle helmet standard, implementation of this standard will assist these countries with future harmonization with ECE R.22
Next Steps & Timelines
The FIA Foundation/ GHVI draft standard has been finalized by a group of technical experts within FIA Foundation and GHVI and is currently available for review by the informal working group (see Attachment 1). It is recommend that the informal working group provide progress reports to GRSP and necessary updates to WP.29 to ensure the effort is making progress at the necessary pace.
The development of a standard for lightweight protective helmets for motorcycle riders will significantly improve the road safety situation in developing countries. Governments will have an immediate regulation that will allow them to better control and monitor the quality of the protective helmets that are currently being sold in their country. Qualified helmet manufacturers will benefit from a reduction in the number of counterfeit low-cost products that illegally claim to be in compliance with a recognized standard. Finally, consumers will benefit by having low cost, comfortable head protection that will provide them with excellent protection against head injury.
Blincoe, L., Seay, A., Zaloshnja, E., Miller, T., Romano, E., Luchter, S., & Spicer, R. (2002). The economic impact of motor vehicle crashes, 2000. (DOT HS-809-446). National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, Washington, D.C.
European Commission Directorate General for Energy and Transport (2001). COST 327 Motorcycle Helmets - Final Report of the Action. Commission of the European Communities, Belgium.
Hendrie, B., Miller, T., Orlando, M., Spicer, R.S., Taft, C., Consunji, R., & Zaloshnja, E. (2004). Child and family safety device affordability by country income level: an 18 country comparison. Injury Prevention. 10:338–343.
Koornstra, M., Lynam, D., Nilsson, G., Noordzij, P., Pettersson, H., Wegman, F., & Wouters, P. (2002). Sunflower: a comparative study of the development of road safety in Sweden, the United Kingdom and the Netherlands. SWOV (Swedish Institute for Road Safety Research), Leidschendam.
Liu, B.C., Ivers, R., Norton, R., Boufous, S., Blows, S., & Lo, S.K. (2008). Helmets for preventing injury in motorcycle riders. Cochrane Database Systematic Review, January 23; (1): CD004333.
Mohan, D. (2002). Traffic safety and health in Indian cities. Journal of Transport and Infrastructure, 9:79–94.
National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (2004). Traffic Safety Facts. Motorcycle helmet laws. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, Washington, DC.
Suriyawongpaisal, P., & Kanchanusut, S. (2003). Road traffic injuries in Thailand: trends, selected underlying determinants and status of intervention. Injury Control and Safety Promotion, 10:95–104.
Umar, R. (2002). Helmet initiatives in Malaysia. In: Proceedings of the 2nd World Engineering Congress. Kuching, Sarawak, Malaysia.
United Nations TRANS/WP.29/714 (2000). Uniform Provisions Concerning the Approval of Protective Helmets and of Their Visors for Drivers and Passengers of Motor Cycles and Mopeds – 05 series of amendments.
World Health Organization (2009). Global status report on road safety: time for action. World Health Organization, Geneva.
Zhang, J., Norton, R., Tang, K.C., Lo, S., Jiatong, Z., & Wenkui, G. (2004). Motorcycle ownership and injury in China. Injury Control & Safety Promotion, 11:159–163.
ATTACHMENT 1 – GHVI Draft Standard